Preserving the History of the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Seattle, Washington

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Sockeye Swimming Up the Ladder

Just like clockwork the salmon are returning to the fish ladder at the Chittenden Locks.

Of the 3 Pacific salmon species that use the fish ladder, the sockeye are the first to return each year, coming back from the Gulf of Alaska where they have been feeding for the last 2-3 years. The majority of them were hatched on the Cedar River and are returning there to spawn.

When we see them at the Locks they are silver color, called 'ocean phase,' and are easily identified from other salmon species by the lack of spots on their backs. Sockeye will average 6-8 pounds and 24-30 inches long. As they journey through fresh water to the spawning beds their bodies will take on the distinctive red color called 'freshwater phase.'

Moving through the Canal and lakes they will reach the spawning beds in late September/early October. Each female will lay several thousand eggs in the gravel of the riverbed where they remain for 3 months until hatching into tiny fish called alevins. Both male and female salmon die after spawning, thereby becoming an important part of the ecosystem as their decaying bodies return essential nutrients- nitrogen, phosphorus- to the soils along the streams.

The fish ladder viewing gallery is open daily from 7 a.m.-8:45 p.m., there are displays there and in the Visitor Center (10 - 6:00 daily) with additional information on the salmon life cycle.

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